Hundreds of students protested the University of Connecticut’s lack of climate action by walking out of class, making speeches and marching to Gulley Hall to list UConn-specific climate demands Friday afternoon.
The event, which began with a walkout of classes at 9 a.m., was part of the international Fridays for Future climate strike. Beginning on the student union lawn, it featured stations to make protest signs, read climate-related books, study up on individual issues and take photos. Around noon, speeches addressed climate change topics that often go undiscussed or overlooked.
The speeches were followed by the march to Gulley Hall, where the demands were read to UConn President Thomas Katsouleas and the crowd of protestors. Fifth-semester political science major, Fridays for Future member and Daily Campus Opinion Editor Harry Zehner said students would arrange sit-ins starting in two weeks if they see “no adequate response.”
“I haven’t had a chance to review the specific demands,” Katsouleas said right after the march. “The fact that they come from a large group of students makes me take whatever’s in that list really seriously. So we’re gonna go through it one by one and try to take action on every one that we can and try to understand what the implications and consequences are.”
Katsouleas announced in his response to students that he will make climate change the sole agenda item for the Trustee Administrator Faculty Student committee this year, and have them work together with the sustainability committee.
The seven demands listed were for UConn to declare a climate emergency, stop the expansion of fossil fuel infrastructure, divest the UConn Foundation from all fossil fuel holdings, transition to 100% renewable energy as quickly as possible, commit to carbon neutrality by 2030 and a zero-carbon campus by at least 2050, prioritize diversity in environmental spaces on campus and increase transparency, communication, and student decision-making power.
Many speakers discussed the lack of diversity in environmental groups (both student-led action groups and the environmental science department here at UConn), the incontrovertible need for urgent response and the intersectionality of climate change with other issues such as racism, sexism, homophobia and xenophobia.
Katharine Morris, a fifth-semester cognitive science and anthropology double major, spoke to the lack of indigenous rights and its connection with environmental justice. Marissa Naclerio, a third-semester natural resources major, discussed how environmental crises disproportionately affect those with the smallest carbon footprint.
Wawa Gatheru, a seventh-semester environmental studies major, said she recently had the “startling and quite frightening realization” that she doesn’t know how to talk about climate change. While she possesses “climate science fluency,” Gatheru said she finds the current narrative on the issue lacking and wants the conversation to include discussions of race, emotion, age, policy, history and class.
“We’re not trying to educate people anymore,” Gatheru said. “We’re trying to activate them.”
Sen. Mae Flexer, who represents UConn, arrived at the rally and remarked on the turnout and message.
“I am thrilled to see so many UConn students out today as part of this global climate strike. This is a critical issue we all need to be focused on,” Flexer said. “Change can happen right here at this university and in this community and I am so grateful for the leadership of all the students who are pushing these issues.”
UConn State Rep. Gregg Haddad was also present and mentioned how young people are central to the fight against climate change.
“Here in Mansfield we’re building a new school and a lot of thought went into making sure that we’re thinking about climate change,” Haddad said. “That’ll be the first [carbon] net-zero school in Connecticut.”
Students like first-semester political science major Layan Alnajjar responded positively to the walkout.
Alnajjar said the strike would hopefully “open the eyes of the administration and our campus as a whole … and make us more aware of the consequences our actions have on the world everyday.”
Third-semester environmental science major and member of Ecohouse Maura Sanchi also attended the march and expressed the importance of responding to climate change.
“We got ourselves into this mess, so we should feel responsible to fix it,” Sanchi said. “A big university like this has the means to do so.”